Hickory Grove Farm: Regenerative Farming Revives Soils & Eco Systems

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Hickory Grove Farm

Story and Photos by Holly D. Elmore

Regenerative Agriculture Revives Soils & Local Ecosystems

An Ei digital book

48 Southern Farm & Garden

As a former Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) cement mixing site for the construction of nearby Interstate-75, Hickory Grove Farm is an iconic case study in soil rebuilding. Though not toxic-laden, the ground was severely compacted and devoid of active microbial communities necessary for healthy soil. In 2013 the GDOT leased

Hickory Grove Farm

Regenerative Agriculture Revives Soils & Local Ecosystems

the 26-acre tract of land to Kennesaw State Universiry for farm use. Four years later, Hickory Grove Farm is the home to restored local ecosystems.

Story and Photography by Holly D. Elmore Left: Beautiful, nutritious chard is ready for harvest in the farm’s high tunnel greenhouse. Above right: Entrance to the Hickory Grove Farm. Below right: Tim Trefzer, Georgia World Congress Center Director of Sustainability, learns first-hand about crop types and yields in high tunnel greenhouses.

Beyond its academic value, Hickory Grove Farm sets an empowering example of how regenerative farming rebuilds damaged soils and produces abundant healthy, nutritious food.


The farm is a win for the university, the regional community, and the environment.

ommitted to regenerative agriculture practices, Hickory

Grove Farm is pesticide/herbicide free, uses no-till farming methods, rotates crops within fields, and plants cover crops when a field rests. The abundant, nutritious farm produce is a perfect complement to The Commons’ commitment to healthy dining. In addition to serving as a laboratory for The Michael A. Leven School of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality (CSH) at Kennesaw State University (KSU), the Hickory Grove Farm supplies The Commons with 25 percent of its produce, approximately 20,000 pounds of produce annually, and often 100 percent of its eggs. Gold LEED Certified, The Commons is the campus dining hall, serving 6,000 students, faculty, and guests per day during the active school year. When CSH began nurturing the Hickory Grove Farm property, stormwater ran off the property instead of hydrating the land. With simple stormwater management and erosion control practices in place, stormwater remains on the vibrant farm and feeds a healthy retention pond. In addition to a pair of mallard ducks, frogs, a variety of native plants, and abundant insects thrive within the pond and its shoreline. In the Propagation Lab, Farm Manager Michael Blackwell teaches student volunteers and employees how to stamp soil blocks for plasticfree seed planting. Once germinated, the young plants grow to maturity in the high tunnel greenhouse. As another plastic-free measure, Blackwell grows saplings for new orchards in repurposed #10 cans from KSU Dining Services.

Above: Reuse in action! A willow sapling grows in a re-purposed #10 can from Kennesaw State University (KSU) Dining Services. Right: A KSU culinary student and farm hand takes care of his 200 “ladies” along with one gentleman. … and he LOVES his job!

Right: The lush farm pond was formed by simple, on-property stormwater retention systems and is integral to restoring the local ecosystem. Above top: When conditions are ideal, mushrooms are cultivated in the farm’s old growth forest. Above bottom: Lush abundance is the energy within the farm high tunnel greenhouse.

Hickory Grove Farm Old Growth Forest The Hickory Grove Farm land is bound on the south and north sides with old growth forest. While exploring the north forest, Farm Manager Michael Blackwell was thrilled to discover two healthy shoots from formerly magnificent American chestnuts killed by the chestnut blight. It is estimated that three to four billion American chestnuts succumbed to the blight in the first half of the 20th century. Though healthy in appearance, the shoots remain vulnerable to the blight. Based on leaves and twigs submitted by Dr. Jorge Perez Arocho, the American Chestnut Foundation confirmed that the saplings are pure American chestnuts. If the elder sapling is free of the blight parasite, Blackwell is hopeful that Hickory Grove Farm may submit healthy seeds to national efforts to revive the magnificent native trees. Before human North American development, the American Chestnut was the predominant tree from the Eastern seaboard to the Mississippi River. Legend says a squirrel could run through American Chestnut tree branches from the East Coast to the Mississippi without touching the ground. Though urban development diminished the prominent population, the chestnut blight eliminated the magnificent trees from North American landscapes.

Many colleges are investing in local agriculture by growing their own food and serving locally sourced food in their cafeterias.


ickory Grove Farm is home to a state-of-the-art

Hydroponics Lab that waters each plant individually. The periodic dry time emulates nature and prevents root rot often prevalent in hydroponic systems. Tomato, cucumber, and various pepper crops yield impressive produce for The Commons dining. Planting is timed to generate crops within the KSU class rhythm. Dr. Jorge Perez Arocho uses the farm’s fifteen honey bee apiaries as a hands-on laboratory for the CSH Organic Agriculture and Beginning Apiary course. In addition to honey bees, the farm installed native bee hives in the maturing apple orchard. Though they do not produce honey, native bees are far superior pollinators to honey bees, which are an introduced species. In early 2017, the Honeybee Conservancy granted funds to The Siegel Institute for Leadership, Ethics, and Character to support collaborative efforts with KSU for raising Georgia’s bee population. Designated for construction of a new apiary, grant funds allow Hickory Grove Farm to add mason and leafcutter bees to the current population. Over 100 chickens call Hickory Grove Farm home, where they live free-range yet protected from local hawks. The happy hens supply 200+ eggs per week to The Commons and are often the sole egg source for campus dining. Beyond its academic value, Hickory Grove Farm sets an empowering example of how regenerative farming rebuilds damaged soils and produces abundant healthy, nutritious food. The farm is a win for the university, the regional community, and the environment. h

Above: Did you know honey bees are not native to North America? In 1622, colonists brought the first honey bees from Europe. In addition to native bee hives in the orchards, Hickory Grove Farm uses the thriving honey bee apiary as a hands-on laboratory for CSH courses. Bottom: Plastic-free planting: soil blocks planted with seeds await germination in the Hickory Grove Farm Propagation Lab. Right: Hickory Grove Farm is home to happy, curious hens!

Hickory Grove Farm Inspires Corporate Sustainability In June 2017 Elemental Impact (Ei), a nonprofit committed to corporate sustainability and soil health, hosted Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) Director of Sustainability Tim Trefzer and EPA Region 4 Environmental Scientist Kim Charick on a powerful Hickory Grove Farm tour. Farm Manager Michael Blackwell and Dr. Jorge Perez Arocho gave a thorough farm tour, along with details on the land history. Inspired, Trefzer teamed with Levy Restaurants Executive Chef Matt Roach and GWCC Grounds Operations Manager Steve Ware to identify an oncampus mini-farm area. The intent is to use the farm produce in the employee dining facility. Later in the summer, Ei returned to Hickory Grove Farm with the GWCC team for education on regenerative agriculture practices along with crop choice advice; Ware shared his extensive horticulture expertise, especially pertaining to plant/tree identification in the farm's old growth forest areas. The GWCC team prepared for the first planting this fall on the new mini-farm.

In partnership with Holly Elmore Enterprises, Elemental Impact (Ei) is building a digital library comprised of Holly’s Fingertip Press publications supported by Holly Elmore Images photos. Created and published by Nancy Suttles, the digital books augment Ei’s profound work within the Soil Health and Water Use | Toxicity platforms.

As featured in the Fall / Winter 2017 issue of:



Nancy Suttles, Co-Founder, Publisher & Creative Director

Click here to see Holly Elmore Images Video

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